Instead of celebrating birthdays at globalHMA with cake, lunch and big fanfare, we are spending that time volunteering during our birthday month. We encourage each person to select a cause that matters to them, give back and share their volunteer experience.

I grew up in the sweetest place on earth, also known as Hershey, Pa. I attended Milton Hershey School (MHS) for a total of 12 years and graduated in 2009. For those of you unfamiliar with MHS, it is a “cost-free, private, co-educational home and school.” If you meet the proposed standards and benchmarks while in high school, MHS provides financial assistance for your post-secondary education.

But beyond that, Milton Hershey School is like no other place on the planet. It is a place where students get opportunities they are otherwise not afforded. It is a place where students receive the tools and resources to create a brighter future for themselves. It is a place where students become a part of the Milt family and build friendships that will last a lifetime. And for many of the past graduates, it is home.

I took a trip back to MHS in April to share some of my experiences with the upperclassmen. My goal was to share some insight on how to transition from the structure of boarding school to the freedom of university life.

Most of the students I spoke to were attentive, and genuinely interested in the things I had to say. I gave the students the opportunity to ask any questions about the college experience. While a few of the students were only interested in parties and the social aspects of college, many students had serious, well thought-out questions. Their questions ranged from securing jobs, planning classes and what items they would need for college that they may have missed. Some of the students were almost late to their next class because they had questions that I didn’t get to during the class period. I couldn’t believe how grateful and thankful they were that I was willing to share my experiences with them.

My visit back was a positive experience that I think everyone benefitted from. The students got to address the questions and concerns they have about transitioning to the next step in their lives. My previous teachers got to wear proud smiles knowing they made a difference in my life, and helped me get to where I am today. And I think even the principal was happy to see me coming back to give advice to students. Although it may have been because it was one the few times I was in their office and not receiving a detention.

And me? I think I benefitted most of all. All I had to do was share experiences and give some of my time, and in return, I got the welcoming, warm love that MHS has always shown me. I got to reflect on the journey, the time, effort and energy others and I have invested in myself. And most importantly, I got the opportunity to give a piece of myself, and make a difference in a place that has made all the difference for me.